Mahamudra and Medicine Buddha Teachings

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Crestone, Colorado (Archive #1711)

Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave these teachings at the White Eagle Conference Center in Crestone, Colorado, in June 2008.  The teachings include the oral transmission of the First Panchen Lama's root text for the Precious Gelug/Kagyu Tradition of Mahamudra and the Medicine Buddha jenang. The transcripts have been edited by Ven Ailsa Cameron.

You can listen online to these teachings and follow along with the unedited transcript here.

Second Discourse, 6 June 2008

Is there a question? It can even be half a question….

Student: Rinpoche, yesterday you talked about living with the good heart and trying to dedicate your whole life to helping others, and you said that there’s then no room for anything but joy. But when you’re trying to develop that mind, you’re also very aware of all the suffering around you and that it’s difficult to help others from where we are in our practice because we’re still trying to help ourselves; so, at a certain point, you may feel a lot of frustration rather than joy. What kind of antidote can we use to counter that feeling of frustration in order to be able to feel that joy?

Rinpoche: That means the buddhas would have the greatest frustration.

Student: Buddhas are able to help, but, as sentient beings, our ability to help is very limited. The source of frustration is the difficulty of actually helping others.

Rinpoche: I think it is because of not having fully developed, not having stable realization of, the special attitude of taking responsibility on yourself for liberating others from all their suffering and its causes and bodhicitta.

Yes, you’re right. There are difficulties and frustrations in being unable to help. But I think there’s still a difference from someone who is totally egotistical and selfish and not attempting to practice. The suffering and unhappiness in such a person’s heart would be much greater, because of their mistaken motivation of attachment clinging to this life, self-cherishing and so forth. Their worry, fear and unhappiness, which is the opposite to peace, would be much greater than that experienced by someone who, even though they don’t have realization and all the methods to help others, are on the way to developing them. I think there’s still a great difference between them because of the attitudes of the two people. For the second person, I think there will be peace, because the less self-cherishing thought and worldly concern there is, the more peace there is. With the absence of self-cherishing thought and worldly concern and with the presence of the thought of cherishing others, there is definitely more satisfaction, more contentment, so there is that peace. Even though you feel that you don’t have all the methods to help others, I think there is still a big difference.

A person who doesn’t have compassion for others, who has no feeling for the sufferings of others, will feel relaxed as long as they’re not suffering and have everything they want. There are people like this; no matter what is happening to others in the world, as long as they’re okay, everything is okay. But there are other people who have compassion, always concerned about others and thinking of the happiness and suffering of others. Between these two types of people, I think the person who has compassion for others, who is concerned about the difficulties of others, even if they can’t help much, is much, much better mentally; their mind is more developed. When your compassion toward others is more developed, you are concerned about others, you feel the sufferings of others. Because of your compassion, your concern for others, you then use whatever capacity you have to help others.

So, I think the person with compassion will achieve enlightenment quicker. Someone who has more compassion for other sentient beings, who is more concerned about what others need, wants to help others. Even if they don’t have much capacity to help, the person with this compassionate quality of mind will achieve enlightenment quicker than the other person, the one who is happy and satisfied as long as they have everything they need and have no concern for others. This person’s mental level is extremely low, or you could say, more obscured. Even though the selfish person might be relaxed, I think the other person, who has compassion for others, who is concerned about others, is much more fortunate. The more compassion they have, the luckier they are. That’s the real lucky person, because, even if their compassion is small, from that compassion they will achieve everything.

With that compassion, they will always live their lives with sincerity and cause less harm to others. Because of their concern for others, they will abandon harming others as much as possible. Not only will they harm others less, but they will benefit others more. With whatever compassion they have and according to their capacity, they will try to help others with their body, speech and mind. Every day the nature of that person’s life will be like that. Every day, even though they don’t have fully developed compassion, compassion for all living beings, they will use the compassion they have to help others. In their daily life they will create so much good karma with the wholesome actions, positive actions, healthy actions, of their body, speech and mind. By the way, in their daily life, they will create so much good karma, the unmistaken cause of happiness.

As I mentioned yesterday, even if someone has no belief in reincarnation, karma and such things, the more compassion and concern they have for others, the more good karma they will create. Every day that person will bring happiness to many people, whether in their home, in their office or somewhere else. Wherever that person is—East, West, on the moon—they will bring so much happiness to others, not only to human beings but to animals. That person’s life is really worthwhile. Their compassion will then develop more and more, and they will be able to complete it.

Compassion for sentient beings becomes the root of bodhicitta, the altruistic mind to achieve enlightenment for sentient beings, which is the door to the path to enlightenment. From the root, compassion, you receive all the skies of qualities of all the bodhisattva’s paths. There are five paths and ten bhumis, and there are unbelievable qualities as the paths go higher and higher. To us, the bodhisattvas on the eighth, ninth and tenth bhumis look like enlightened beings. Their qualities are unimaginable, something that we can’t comprehend. For sentient beings, they can manifest all sorts of forms, such as bridges or water. Those bodhisattvas are able to manifest whatever is needed by sentient beings. Our very limited mind can’t comprehend the qualities of those bodhisattvas. They’re just unimaginable. Even each pore of their body is a realm, and they pervade those realms.

After achieving all this, you then achieve a buddha’s holy body, holy speech and holy mind, which have limitless skies of qualities. Buddhas have qualities that can’t be seen by even arhats, who have the six types of clairvoyance, nor by tenth bhumi bodhisattvas. Even though tenth bhumi bodhisattvas have skies of unbelievable qualities, they still cannot see a buddha’s secret qualities and secret actions. So, all the unbelievable qualities of a buddha that you will achieve come from your mind, from the root, the compassion you generated for other sentient beings. Compassion for sentient beings is the root of all the buddhas’ qualities.

From the compassion that you, one person, generate for other sentient beings, you will achieve all happiness: the happiness of this life, the happiness of all future lives and the ultimate happiness of liberation from samsara and full enlightenment, as I mentioned before. Not only that, but you, one sentient being, from this positive thought of compassion, will be able to liberate all sentient beings. As I mentioned last night, there are numberless beings in the hell realms who are experiencing unimaginable suffering; you will be able to liberate all of them, every one of those numberless hell beings.

In the same way, you will be able to liberate the numberless sentient beings in the preta realm from their unbearable suffering, the major suffering being hunger and thirst. For hundreds, thousands, of years, pretas can’t find even one spoonful of food or one drop of water. It’s difficult for them to see even the damp mark of water. So, you will be able to liberate those numberless pretas from all those sufferings.

There are also numberless animals, who are experiencing most unbearable sufferings. They are extremely foolish, and because of that, many other sufferings arise. They suffer through being eaten by each other, hunger and thirst, torture and in many other ways. As we have neither omniscience nor clairvoyance, not even the five types of clairvoyance that Hindus can achieve, we don’t know what the lives of animals are like. We can’t really see because we can’t read their minds. From outside, people see butterflies or cats as beautiful, but their lives are actually so unbearable. If you could read the minds of animals, if you could really see their suffering, you would see yourself as liberated—not liberated from delusion and karma, but at this time liberated compared to them. The difference is just unimaginable. For this short time, it is like you are liberated; but, of course, this is just for a very short time. This incredible freedom and comfort could stop any day. You can’t say how long it will last—it could be stopped any day. So, this realization is extremely important. You don’t have the unimaginable sufferings that animals experience, but this incredible comfort that you have is not forever, and you never know when this appearance of a human body and all this comfort will end. You can’t tell, but you will have it for just a very short time.

Even if, intellectually, we know the meditation techniques to protect our mind from anger and to practice patience, even if we know the many techniques explained in the texts by the holy beings, by Buddha, the great Indian pandits and the highly attained Tibetans, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are able to practice those techniques all the time. Even if we have that education, it doesn’t mean that we’re able to protect our mind from delusion and from negative karma, from harming ourselves and others, all the time. Our mind has been habituated to delusions and to creating negative karma during beginningless rebirths. Even the omniscient mind cannot see the beginning of it. This is why it’s very difficult for most people, even when they know the techniques, to remember to practice them. At the time that there’s a need to practice the techniques, it’s difficult to remember them. Maybe later, after everything has finished, you then remember them. After all the destruction of liberation, enlightenment and all your happiness is done, you then remember the techniques. I’m joking…

Because of the habituation during beginningless rebirths, it’s difficult even to remember the techniques. Of course, by continuing to practice, by continuously putting effort into it, you are able to remember more and more, practice more and more then overcome delusion more and more. In the case of anger, even though it might still arise, it will be very rare compared to a few years ago. Also, it won’t last long. It will last just a very short time, then disappear. After a few years, and even from year to year, you can see a big difference if somebody is practicing. They will have less anger, and even when it arises from time to time, it will last for only a very short time then disappear. Then after some time, no anger will arise at all. It is similar with the other delusions.

If there is continuity of effort, over the years you will see development. Otherwise, if you try for a few months but then there’s no continuity of effort, you will be the same as before having met Dharma. Maybe you then try again for a short time. Trying for a short time is still better than nothing, because you create less negative karma. At those times that you do practice or do retreat, because you watch your mind, you create less negative karma. This still makes a huge difference, but most of the time the practice is not there, and because your mind is so much more habituated to delusion and negative karma, you can’t achieve much in your life. It’s difficult to see how you could achieve realizations.

So, I’ll just finish what I was going to say before. With the compassion you have for others, in the same way, you will eventually liberate numberless human beings from the oceans of human sufferings that they are experiencing. You will also be able to liberate the numberless asuras and suras from the oceans of sufferings of their realms, as well as the numberless intermediate state beings.

Not only that, but as I also mentioned last night, there are numberless universes. This is explained not only by Buddha but by modern science. There are human worlds in each of those numberless universes, and all those human beings, due to ignorance, to lack of Dharma understanding, use their precious human bodies only to create negative karma and harm others. They live their lives with ignorance, especially the ignorance holding the I, the aggregates and all other phenomena to be truly existent; anger; attachment; and self-cherishing thought. Like being drowned in the ocean, they are totally overwhelmed by their delusions. They can’t see the possibility of any life other than that; they can’t see that they could live a life different from that. So, what I am saying here is that by generating compassion, you are able to liberate all those beings from all those oceans of human sufferings.

And, as I mentioned and as you see in the animal programs on the Discovery Channel, there are all those beings in the ocean who are eating each other. They live their lives in total fear. While looking for food, they are eaten by other animals or they escape. Their whole life is like that. When you look down when you are flying in a plane, the water looks very peaceful, but if you think about what is happening inside, it’s terrifying, and pitiful.

By generating compassion for others, you are able to gradually liberate all those beings from all those unimaginable sufferings and then bring everyone to enlightenment. You are able to liberate the numberless beings from each realm—the hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, asuras and suras—and bring them to enlightenment. Your ability to do this comes from your compassion. Your compassion, the compassion of one person, for others is a wish-fulfilling jewel. The external example of a wish-fulfilling jewel is used, but a wish-fulfilling jewel is nothing compared to the value of compassion. You can’t achieve liberation or enlightenment from a wish-fulfilling jewel. The reason that a wish-fulfilling jewel is used as an example in the teachings is that it is the most precious material object. In the past, wheel-turning kings, who have a lot of merit, were able to find a wish-granting jewel. They would then clean it in three ways and mount it on a banner on the roof on the fifteenth day of the lunar calendar. They would then pray for material possessions, and anything they prayed for would be materialized. Because the person had so much merit and because of the power of that jewel, they were able to receive any external material possession that they wished for. A wish-granting jewel is the most precious material object, though its value is nothing compared to the value of your compassion.

Your compassion fulfills all your wishes and enables you to fulfill the wishes of all sentient beings for happiness. So, you become wish-fulfilling for numberless sentient beings, enabling them to achieve all the happiness up to enlightenment.

Before, I was comparing a person who has no concern, no compassion, for others and is relaxed when he has everything he wants and someone else who has concern, compassion, for others. There is a huge difference between them. Even though the person with compassion mightn’t be able to help others much at the moment, in regard to the meaning of life, their attitude is like gold, and the other person’s is like iron, or like kaka.

For anybody to have compassion for others is a great thing, a wonderful thing. If someone has some compassion, it’s easy to develop it, especially through meditation. Such a person is very fortunate.

We’ll stop here. Sorry, I forgot to let Sophia do the translation. I owe her a lot of baksheesh. Do you know what baksheesh is? It’s a bribe.

[Ven. Sophia does a long translation into Chinese.]

Hsieh, hsieh.

I have a bad habit of talking for a long time. However, when I’m speaking in English, it gives those who don’t understand English a very good opportunity to meditate. It’s your meditation session. When Sophia then speaks her holy Chinese language, those who speak English and don’t understand Chinese, have time for their meditation session. You can use that time to meditate on your achieving liberation and enlightenment, and then liberating the numberless sentient beings and bringing them to full enlightenment. You can do that meditation.

So, I just want to mention three things, and then I’ll stop. Since the subject of compassion was brought up, I first want to mention what happens without compassion. In this world, it has happened many times that because a powerful, influential person lacked compassion, they killed many millions of people. At different times in the history of this world one person has killed many millions of people. (This is counting just the human beings, without counting the numberless animals and insects that were burned or killed in the destruction caused by bombs and so forth.) That happened because of the lack of compassion. Because that one person didn’t have compassion, so much destruction happened in the world. It’s unbelievable. Even a long time later, because of the chemicals used in the destruction, many people still get sick.

If you yourself, one person, generate and develop compassion, you won’t kill many millions of people and destroy the world in other lives, in future lives.

As I mentioned before, even in this life, by having compassion you are able to directly bring happiness to other sentient beings and indirectly by dedicating merit and praying. Even now you are preparing in your mind to be able to benefit all sentient beings; even now you are developing the potential to be able to liberate all sentient beings. This is amazing! What you are able to do even now by having compassion is amazing. And, sooner or later, you will liberate the numberless sentient beings and bring them to enlightenment. Compassion enables you to prepare for that. Because of your compassion for others, you will enlighten other sentient beings. When you do one sadhana, one deity’s meditation practice, sadhana, within that there are powerful means to purify the faults of your mind, to cease your defilements, and to plant so many seeds to achieve enlightenment. Even during one sadhana, you make unbelievable preparation and build up so much potential. Then, sooner or later, you will be able to actualize the path, have all those perfect qualities of the deity and do perfect work for the numberless sentient beings. Sooner or later, you will be perfectly qualified through having done this meditation, this sadhana. That’s just one example.

Because of your compassion, you want to benefit other sentient beings, and therefore you want to learn Dharma. You want to be educated in the whole path to enlightenment, in true suffering, true cause of suffering, true cessation and true path. You want to know everything about the means to achieve enlightenment. So, you learn and, by practicing what you have learnt, develop the experience.

As I was saying before, developing this compassion in your heart means that in future lives (and in this life), you won’t become like those people who caused disaster in this world. When you, one person, have compassion, you stop giving harm to others. Your compassion doesn’t allow you to harm the numberless other sentient beings: the numberless hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, asuras, suras and intermediate state beings. All those numberless beings receive so much peace, the absence of harm, from you. On top of that, compassion makes you benefit others, bring happiness to others. Again, you then develop wisdom and the other realizations of the path to the cessation of suffering, the path to enlightenment. By continuing and completing all the realizations, you achieve the state of omniscient mind. So, your compassion causes you to benefit others, the numberless sentient beings, deeper and deeper; then, ultimately, bring them to enlightenment.

The other point is: therefore, generating compassion for other sentient beings is the most important practice in life. Compassion for others is the real meaning of your life.

Next, without compassion, no matter how much wisdom you develop, the highest attainment you can achieve is arhatship, mere cessation of the suffering of samsara and its cause, karma and delusion. Without compassion, you can achieve nothing higher than that. So, since you still cannot work perfectly for sentient beings, it becomes a great obstacle.

When you live your daily life with compassion for others, you become the source of happiness for others. Compassion is the source of all your peace and happiness in daily life, as well as the source of all your happiness in all your future lives, as I mentioned before. No matter how many times you have to die and be reborn in samsara, you will have happiness in those lives and then the ultimate happiness of enlightenment. Besides that, a person who lives their daily life with compassion for others becomes a source of happiness in this world. They become a source of happiness for other sentient beings: for their family, for the people they work with, for all the people and animals that are around them.

Therefore, in our daily life, it’s very important to bring in compassion when we talk to other people and to cats and dogs. Animals may not understand completely, but maybe they can learn something from external gestures such as being given food. In daily life, we should try to keep our mind in compassion and to remember to bring compassion into whatever activities we are doing. It’s very important that the other person feel that we are acting with compassion. I think it’s a good way to inspire them and to plant seeds.

I think we’ll stop there.

So, there is one more thing….

The suffering of others that we see is very gross. We don’t see all the suffering, not even all the suffering of pain. We don’t see temporary samsaric pleasure as suffering. And we don’t see pervasive, compounding suffering, which is the base of the other two sufferings. The body and mind, the aggregates, are suffering in nature; they are under the control of karma and delusions and contaminated by the seed of delusion. The aggregates compound problems in this life for the body and mind and compound problems in future lives; they cause rebirth in future lives and compound future suffering. That’s the foundation. So, without seeing those other two sufferings, most of us see just the suffering of others as the suffering of pain, and we don’t see even that completely. There is much more than the suffering of pain; all this samsaric pleasure is only suffering in nature, and then there is pervasive, compounding suffering. It’s unimaginable.

The question is, Do arya bodhisattvas have frustration or not? Do the buddhas have frustration or not? It’s good to analyze whether a buddha has frustration or not, because the extent of suffering is unimaginable, and a buddha can see everything. We don’t completely see all the suffering, but a buddha can see all the endless suffering.

Those who have renunciation of samsara have renunciation of not only the suffering of pain, but of even the suffering of change, all the samsaric pleasure which doesn’t last, cannot be increased and afterwards becomes the suffering of pain, and of pervasive, compounding suffering.

So, I’ve forgotten why I’m talking about this….

Anyway, a meditator who has the realization of renunciation is like someone who has fallen into a fire or been put in prison. They have no interest to be in that fire or that prison for even a second; they constantly want to be out. This is how it is for anyone who understands all those sufferings. Now, the higher bodhisattvas and buddhas directly see all this, so it’s good to check how they might feel.

A person who has compassion tries in their daily life, as much as possible, to stop harming others and to benefit others. All the buddhas and bodhisattvas are with that person; they’re behind that person.

The main thing to understand from this session is that without compassion for others, life is empty. The way to make life meaningful, or beneficial, is by having compassion for others. That is the heart practice for all of us. There are so many practices, but that should be our heart practice, then everything will come.

That’s all. I will stop here.

“Dag gi ji nye sag päi ge wa di….

“Jang chhub sem chhog rin po chhe….

“Due to all the merits of the three times collected by me and by others, which are empty from their own side, may the I, who is empty from its own side, achieve Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment, which exists but which is empty from its own side, and lead all the sentient beings, who exist but who are empty from their own side, to that enlightenment, which exists but which is empty from its own side.”

Thank you, thank you. Hsieh, hsieh.